MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Tomorrow night's debate in South Carolina is the 10th so far for most Democrats running for president. For Michael Bloomberg, it is a second chance to redefine himself after what, by most accounts, was a disastrous first debate appearance. For most candidates, it is hard to come back from a bad first outing. Bloomberg, though, has already spent more than $450 million of his own money on campaign ads. NPR's Kelsey Snell reports.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: There are two different Michael Bloombergs on TV these days. One is debate Bloomberg - unprepared, uncomfortable and being hit repeatedly for his record with women.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: None of them accuse me of doing anything other than maybe they didn't like the joke I told. And let me just - and let me point...
SNELL: The other Bloomberg - a confident businessman with a progressive record on guns, education and health care - is the one celebrated in the commercial breaks.
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BLOOMBERG: Anyone hear the slogan, Mike will get it done?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I like Mike.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I like Mike.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I like Mike.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I like Mike.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I like Mike.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: I like Mike.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: I like Mike for president.
BLOOMBERG: I'm Mike Bloomberg, and I approve this message.
SNELL: Bloomberg has a unique ability to reset the record. His estimated wealth totals more than $60 billion, and he's made a commitment to spend whatever it takes to win. Bloomberg can dominate the airwaves with slickly produced ads and fill the Internet with instantly shareable memes. It's an advantage other Democrats are not taking lightly.
ADDISU DEMISSIE: There's no doubt in my mind that the ability to communicate a clear message in 30 seconds or 60 seconds or whatever it may be directly to voters without the filter of a press or, you know, a question that might be not in your wheelhouse is something that's extremely valuable. And if you have the money to do it, you have the ability to cut through the noise.
SNELL: That's Addisu Demissie. He managed New Jersey Senator Cory Booker's presidential campaign. Booker was clear when he dropped out of the race in January that a lack of campaign cash was to blame. Bloomberg may not have to worry about money for ads, but Demissie says debates and other campaigning prepares candidates for tough questions about their record.
DEMISSIE: You do develop sort of skills, hardened skin, the ability to think on your feet by being on the ground.
SNELL: Bloomberg's fortune is helpful there, too, though. He is investing heavily in a wide and growing network of campaign offices across the country. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says most people aren't watching the debates. Campaigns have to find other ways to convince them.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA: We understand that if you really want to get people out to vote, you're going to have to knock on their doors. You're going to have to call them.
SNELL: Villaraigosa is one of Bloomberg's campaign co-chairs. He says part of the plan is to reach voters wherever they are and however they receive information. That's why Bloomberg is also investing in ads in Spanish and Spanish-speaking staff in places like California. Villaraigosa says that doesn't come cheap.
VILLARAIGOSA: To reach voters in a state as big as California, you could literally spend tens of millions and even more.
SNELL: That's just one state. Bloomberg is replicating it over and over. It seems to be working for some Super Tuesday voters, like Jerry Williams. He attended a Bloomberg rally in Utah. He saw the debate, but he's weighing more than that.
JERRY WILLIAMS: I think resources are a big part of it, absolutely. He kind of came out of nowhere. You know, he finally got into a debate. And he's throwing a lot of money at media, obviously. And he's getting in front of people. He's got my attention.
SNELL: Bloomberg just has to turn that attention into votes and hope he can do better in tomorrow night's debate.
Kelsey Snell, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.